1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lydia Huntley Sigourney

Sarah Josepha Hale, Woman's Record; or, Sketches of all Distinguished Women (1852; 1855) 782-83.



LYDIA HUNTLEY SIGOURNEY was born in Norwich, Connecticut, in the year 1791. She was the only child of her parents, and consequently was brought up with great tenderness. Her parentage was in that happy mediocrity which requires industry, yet encourages hope; and the habits of order and diligence in which she was carefully trained by her judicious mother have no doubt been of inestimable advantage to the intellectual character of the daughter.

She early exhibited indications of genius. Perhaps the loneliness of her lot, without brother or sister to share in the usual sports of childhood, had an influence on her pursuits and pleasures. We are by no means in favour of establishing precocity of intellect as the standard of real genius. Still, it is true that many distinguished persons have been marked in childhood as extraordinary; the opening blossom has given forth the sweet odour which the rich fruit, like that of the Mangostan, embodies in its delicious perfection. At eight years of age the little Lydia was a scribbler of rhymes; like Pope, "lisping in numbers." Her first work was published in 1815. It was a small volume, entitled "Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Verse." Before this, however, she had fortunately met with a judicious and most generous patron. To Daniel Wadsworth, Esq., of Hartford, belongs the tribute of praise which is due for drawing such a mind from the obscurity where it had remained "afar from the untasted sunbeam."

In 1819 Miss Huntley was united in marriage with Charles Sigourney, a respectable merchant of Hartford, Connecticut; a gentleman of cultivated taste and good literary attainments. From that period Mrs. Sigourney devoted her leisure to literary pursuits; she has produced a variety of works, each and all having one general design — that of doing good.

In 1822 she published "Traits of the Aborigines of America;" a descriptive and historical poem in five cantos. It depicts with truth, and often with much vigour, the condition of the red man before the arrival of his European conqueror, and has passages of deep tenderness and wild beauty. Yet, written as it is in blank verse, and rather discursively, the impression it leaves on the mind is not powerful.

Mrs. Sigourney's next work was in prose — "A Sketch of Connecticut Forty Years Since," published in 1824. During the ensuing fourteen years she sent forth "Poetry for Children," "Sketches; a Collection of Prose Tales, &c.," "Poems," "Zinzendorf," "Letters to Young Ladies," and "Letters to Mothers." All these were favourably received by the American public, and gave the author a warm place in the heart of the people.

In 1840 Mrs. Sigourney went to Europe, visiting England and Scotland in the summer, and passing the winter in Paris, where she received much kindness. She returned to her home in Hartford during the spring of 1841. While on her visit, a volume of her selected poems, superbly illustrated, was published in London, and soon after her return,"Pocahontas," the most carefully finished of her long poems, came out in New York. In 1842 her "Pleasant Memories in Pleasant Lands," a record in prose and verse of her wanderings abroad, was issued; and in 1846 "Myrtis, with other Etchings and Sketching," was published. Since then she has sent out several works, among which are "Water-drops;" an excellent contribution to the temperance cause. A volume of her "Poems," beautifully illustrated, was published in 1848.

The talents and industry of Mrs. Sigourney have won for her a good reputation; and though British critics have attempted to disparage her genius by accusing her of imitating Mrs. Hemans, yet her works are esteemed by English Christians as the most useful of their class. An American critic has well defined the powers of this truly American poetess; — "Mrs. Sigourney's works express with great purity and evident sincerity the tender affections which are so natural to the female heart, and the lofty aspirations after a higher and better state of being which constitute the truly ennobling and elevating principle in art as well as nature. Love and and religion are the unvarying elements of her song; if her powers of expression were equal to the purity and elevation of her habits of thought and feeling, she would be a female Milton or a Christian Pindar. But though she does not inherit

The force and ample pinion that the Theban eagles hear,

Sailing with supreme dominion through the liquid vaults of air,

she nevertheless manages language with ease and elegance, and often with much of the curiosa felicitas, that 'refined felicity' of expression, which is, after all, the principal charm in poetry. In blank verse she is very successful. The poems that she has written in this measure have not unfrequently much of the manner of Wordsworth, and may be nearly or quite as highly relished by his admirers."

The predominance of hope with devotional feeling has inclined Mrs. Sigourney to elegiac poetry, in which she excels. Her muse has been a comforter to the mourner. No poet has written such a number of these songs, nor are these of necessity melancholy. Many of hers sound the notes of holy triumph and awaken the brightest anticipations of felicity — ay,

Teach us of the melody of heaven.

She "leaves not the trophy of death at the tomb," but shows us the "Resurrection and the Life." Thus she elevates the hopes of the Christian and chastens the thoughts of the worldly-minded. This is her mission, the true purpose of her heaven-endowed mind; for the inspirations of genius are from heaven, and, when not perverted by a corrupt will, rise upward as naturally as the morning dew on the flower is exhaled to the skies.

We must not omit to record that Mrs. Sigourney is, in private life, an example to her sex, as well as their admiration in her literary career. She is a good wife and devoted mother; and in all domestic knowledge and the scrupulous performance of her household duties, she shows as ready acquaintance and as much skill as though these alone formed her pursuits. Her literary studies are her recreations — surely as rational a mode of occupying the leisure of a lady as the morning call or the evening party.